In the mid-twentieth century, Gadsden County, Florida, was home to Coca-Cola penny stock investors and a veritable boomtown for agricultural speculators. Each year, beginning in the 1940s, Gadsden farmers hauled $100,000 worth of tobacco to market. Delicate and flexible shade-grown tobacco leaves were highly prized as cigar wrappers and were only produced in Gadsden County and one other place in the United States.
Beginning in the 1960s, tobacco harvests waned and were replaced by crops of lesser value, like tomatoes and ornamental plants. As agricultural fortunes fell, so did the county’s economic status. In 2019, Gadsden County ranked 59 out of 67 in terms of per-capita income in Florida counties. It’s home to persistently low performing schools and is a designated food desert.
The Gadsden Farm Project documents the new agricultural reality of Gadsden County. Today, a new guard of farmers, gardeners, and restaurateurs usher in a season of agricultural and financial promise. Documentarians and artists cultivated relationships with over a dozen farmers, including fourth-generation tobacco farmers, first-generation immigrant laborers, livestock farmers, and practitioners of sustainable agriculture.
In June 2019, to celebrate the collaboration, all gathered for a family-style dinner at Damfino’s Cafe and Market in Quincy, Florida. Through the humanizing power of the welcome table, relationships began to form in what was and is a segregated community.
Presented through a series of photographs, video recordings, handmade ceramic plates, and museum and gallery exhibitions, The Gadsden Farm Project produced collaborative artwork representing the community’s memories woven through the fraught and hopeful agricultural history of Gadsden County.
Artists Holly Hannessian and Michael Diaz are the founders of the Gadsden Farm Project. This project was made possible with the help of DJ Wiggins, Gadsden County IFAS Extension Agent, as well as Amanda Hardeman, Adam Watson, and Eric Griffis from the Florida Folklife Program and State Archives.
The Gadsden Farm Project was generously supported by the Florida State University Council on Research and Creativity through the Arts and Humanities Program Enhancement Grant.